f you live in the US, there’s a good chance your bathroom does not contain a bidet. Yet, if you travel to certain parts of Europe, South America, the Middle East, or Japan, bidets are commonplace – and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
For those who aren’t familiar with how they work, a bidet looks similar to a toilet but it is designed to help you freshen up after toilet use. Most modern bidets have one or more jets that spray water, allowing you to straddle the device for a cleansing far superior to toilet paper.
In fact, the word “bidet” comes from the French stout pony by the same name. It got its name because sitting astride a bidet is very similar to the position you would take if riding the small horse.
Today, there are even better and easier to use bidet seats (which you can put atop a regular toilet) and bidet toilets, which are like a toilet and a bidet in one (a wand under the seat sprays water).
Bidet seats are far less expensive to purchase and install and although some high-end ones retail for $1500, many can easily be found for well under $100 (with no need for a plumber). For me, they are an essential part of my hygiene.
In fact, the thing I miss most when I travel is having access to my bidet, so I always bring along my portable travel bidet (which is similar to a plastic spray bottle, but much easier to direct the water flow) when I leave home for an extended period.
Bidets are easy to use, hygienic, gentle on your skin, and good for the environment… so why haven’t Americans adopted this form of personal cleansing?
Why Bidets Aren’t Popular in America
There are a number of theories why bidets haven’t taken off in the US the way they have in other countries. The device is said to have originated in France in the early 1700s. At that time, the bidet was basically a bowl full of water, from which you could splash water using your hand.
Around 1750, a hand pump was added that allowed water to be sprayed upward.1 From there, the modern bidet was born. As reported by Today I Found Out:2
“The modern bidet that resembles a toilet was developed in the 19th century, and the very popular bidet seat came about in the 1960s, with one of the most popular invented by an American, Arnold Cohen…
In the 1980s, the modern seat was improved with the creation of the ‘washlet.’ Using remote-controlled wands that spout water jets and finish with a warm-air dryer, the washlet is hugely popular, particularly in Japan.
So why don’t Americans use this? After all, if fecal matter got on just about anywhere else on your body, you wouldn’t just wipe it off with toilet paper and call it good. Why should your derrière be any different?”
The most plausible theories for why Americans prefer to be sans-bidet include:3
- History: In the 18th century, Britons had a disdain for French aristocracy (which were among the first to champion the use of bidets). When the early colonists came to America, they may have brought this sentiment with them.
- World War II: During this war, US soldiers likely saw bidets in French brothels (and probably nowhere else), which spread the idea that they were “dirty” or “immoral”
- Conservatism: The first bidets involved using your hand to cleanse your genitals directly. Americans have, traditionally, been conservative in this area and probably preferred the “shield” of toilet paper between one’s genitals and hands (in fact, the US was so conservative that the first toilet flushing wasn’t seen on film until the 1960 film Psycho)4
Are Bidets Becoming More Popular?
According to Kohler, which is the largest manufacturer of bidets in the US, yes, especially among the elderly.5 If you have arthritis or are unsteady on your feet (which means you may have a difficult time showering regularly or even twisting to wipe properly on a toilet), a bidet can provide excellent personal hygiene.
There is also a theory that using a bidet may help prevent urinary tract infections due to better cleansing, and this is another reason why they’re becoming popular among older populations.
But that’s not all. Others in the bathroom industry say bidets are catching on as a high-end luxury… a way to upgrade the last “bastion” that hasn’t yet been upgraded: the toilet.6 Indeed, you can find bidets, bidet toilets, and bidet seats with many spa-like luxuries, from digital temperature controls and “precision” warm air dryers to even motion-activated lids.
Do You Know How Much Toilet Paper Americans Are Wasting?
If the idea of increased freshness and less irritation doesn’t appeal to you, consider this: Americans use close to 8 million tons of toilet paper every year,7 and forests are being destroyed to keep up with this demand. As reported by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):8
“Giant paper producers are forcing the destruction of our continent’s most vibrant forests, and devastating the habitat for countless wildlife species in the process.
Instead of making better use of materials such as post-consumer recycled fiber and agricultural residue to meet the escalating demand for toilet paper, paper towels and other disposable tissue products, these companies buy virgin pulp from suppliers that reach deep into North American forests for timber, from northern Canada to the southeastern United States.”
If every US household replaced even one roll of virgin fiber toilet paper with one made from 100% recycled fibers, 423,900 trees would be saved.9 You can also opt to choose toilet paper sourced from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
However, even toilet paper that comes from specially planted tree plantations is not a sustainable choice in the long run, as these single-species plantations cannot compare with the species-rich forests that have formed a natural habitat for centuries.
Aside from the waste, the process of bleaching toilet paper white leads to the creation of cancer-causing chemicals like dioxins and furans, which not only enter the air but also waterways, soil, and the food chain. Exposure to even low levels of dioxins has been linked to hormone alterations, immune system impairments, reduced fertility, birth defects, and other reproductive problems.
Are You Missing Out on the ‘Luxury’ of a Bidet?
Obviously, toilet paper hasn’t been around that long. Before its invention, people around the world turned to their environment for the best ways to clean up, using whatever items were most practical and available. This included objects like corncobs, leaves, and coconut shells to handfuls of snow… but no, I’m not suggesting you give this a try (unless you’re so inclined!).
A bidet makes far more sense and pays for itself in no time with the money saved on toilet paper, and helps save valuable environmental resources while reducing pollution.
When you use a bidet, you may still need a sheet or two of toilet paper to dry yourself (unless yours has a built-in dryer), but that is a tiny fraction of what you would need to clean yourself. This can easily be done using reusable cloths made from cut up flannel, sheets, or even an old t-shirt, too.
The bidet may be making an emergence in the US as a “luxury” item, but once you try it you’ll view it more as a necessity. Most people I know who’ve tried one love it and only wish they’d gotten one sooner.
Originally posted 2016-03-25 12:48:11.